Team USA gets power surge from Faried

September, 2, 2014
9/02/14
8:27
PM ET
BILBAO, Spain -- Starting power forward. No. 2 scorer on the squad. Emotional compass and team spokesman, too.

Kenneth Faried was supposed to be none of those things on his summer loan from the Denver Nuggets to USA Basketball.

Yet suddenly he's all of the above.

"Expect the unexpected," Faried said Tuesday night, unable to muster a better explanation for it all after another evening in the spotlight against a helpless New Zealand.

Not that anyone in the American traveling party minds that Faried, when pressed, had to confess that "I really don't know" how or why he's emerging as an offensive force. No one minds because solving that riddle is pretty much the only thing he hasn't been able to do for Team USA in its first three games of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

An undersized power forward in the best of times in the NBA with none of the floor-stretching perimeter prowess that 4's are counted on to possess in the modern game -- even more so internationally -- Faried has nonetheless become an absolute favorite of coach Mike Krzyzewski.

No one else was really even considered when it came to finding a replacement in the starting lineup for Kevin Durant after Durant's sudden withdrawal from the squad, which followed Paul George's catastrophic leg injury. But that was largely because of the boundless energy Faried brings to the job and the way he meshed with starting center Anthony Davis.

As a guy, in other words, who doesn't need the ball to have an impact and thus wouldn't get in Davis' way once Davis took over for Durant as top scorer.

A few weeks later, Krzyzewski is the first to admit he never imagined performances like this one against New Zealand would become the norm, with Faried ringing up 15 points and 11 rebounds (seven offensive) while hiking his shooting percentage for the tournament to a tidy 80.8 percent, all just by being his usual hyperactive and opportunistic self around the rim.

You'll recall in Sunday's come-from-behind win over Turkey that Faried had 22 points and eight boards ... and had Krzyzewski openly confessing to the media he doesn't like taking Faried off the court.

"Overall, from the start of training camp, he's been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us," Krzyzewski says. "He’s made that happen. We never call a play for him."

The picture, though, gets a bit clearer the more Krzyzewski talks. Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge all could have kept Faried parked on the bench, or off the team entirely, had they not removed themselves from the Team USA roster this summer. Yet without Durant and thanks to that slew of big names pulling out before the reigning MVP did, Coach K is now convinced the "key for us all the time is defense and giving energy."

If that's indeed the case, especially given the emphasis on the E word, then you can start to understand why Faried has become so critical.

The worry, of course, is that neither Faried nor Davis will be able to be as prolific around the basket as they've been and continue to flourish offensively should they encounter Spain and its massive front line of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the Sept. 14 title game in Madrid. Then what? Those two have been the only consistent sources of scoring for Team USA to date. Where will Krzyzewski turn if those fears are realized?

"We can't worry about Spain right now," Team USA guard Stephen Curry said. "We have six more games to get there. When we get to Madrid down the road, hopefully we will be ready."

It'll realistically be up to the likes of Curry, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Klay Thompson and James Harden, for starters, to outplay Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Llull and Spain's other smalls if the tournament's two heavy favorites deliver the final expected (and craved) by the masses. But the bigger reality for Team USA is that the requisite defensive pressure needed to speed up the game and the sort of turnover-forcing high activity Faried specializes in both figure to be crucial if the Yanks hope to beat Spain in Spain. Doubly so if the hosts can continue to look as good as they did Monday night in dismantling Brazil.

Which is why Faried will continue to be crucial even if the offense he's suddenly delivering starts to fade away.

"He plays with amazing energy and really is as good of a rebounder as there is, I think," Krzyzewski said. "He plays hard every second he's out there. I think these guys would tell you they love playing with him."

Said Faried: "We're just trying to get the gold [medal]. We don't care who's out there scoring, who's out there rebounding, who's out there getting steals or the shine and glory. We just want to win games."

Six more wins to give Faried a taste of success he couldn't have fathomed during an unquestionably frustrating season with the Nuggets, thanks to trade rumors that he admits now were "swirling around my head" and "affect you when you want to stay somewhere."

But he's building on a strong second half with the Nuggets, having averaged 18.8 points and 10.1 rebounds after the All-Star break, with quite a contract drive in red, white and blue as Faried's representatives engage in extension talks with the Nuggets. NBA front-office sources say that the sides continue to negotiate leading up to the Halloween deadline, with Faried poised to become a restricted free agent next summer if no deal can be struck.

"I'm loving this experience," Faried said, trying to keep his focus on what's happening this summer as much as he longs to be a long-term Nugget.

"It’s just a big, fun learning experience for me."

For all of us, really, when it comes to The Manimal.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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